A few months after getting married, my husband handed over the checkbook from our joint bank account and asked me to take over managing our finances and paying all of the household expenses. I was still in law school then, whereas my husband was a first-year associate at a large Manhattan law firm with a lot less free time than me, which is how he justified paying our bills every other month instead of monthly. Wanting to secure a mortgage and buy a house one day, I recognized the importance of paying on time to preserve our credit score and expressed concern about his timing.
At the same time, my husband noticed during the first few months of our marriage that, while he was at work and I was supposed to be studying, I would frequently buy “a little something” for our apartment – typically a knick-knack or a cooking utensil, something we didn’t “need.” Slowly but surely these small purchases began to add up. Mildly annoyed, my husband thought it best if I could see in black and white just how quickly the money came in – and left – our bank account. Once I did, my shopping habit came to an abrupt stop. And so began my new position as Chief Financial Officer of our family.
The tables had turned, and I became the one reminding him what we could and could not afford.
Like many young couples, we had more money going out than we had coming in, and paying our bills each month proved frustrating if not nerve-wracking for me. My husband, on the other hand, appeared relieved. The tables had turned, and I became the one reminding him what we could and could not afford. On payday, it was up to me to figure it all out.
I took my job to heart. I analyzed our finances with precision, using spreadsheets to create a monthly budget. I often spent hours negotiating with utility carriers and credit card companies to get the best packages and lowest rates. And I paid every invoice we received on time, often the day it arrived in the mail. The rest I eventually automated through our bank’s electronic bill payer service as soon as that became an option.
When we separated, preparing my Case Information Statement (“CIS”), a detailed list of all of our household expenses by month, was a breeze. All I had to do was update a few of the entries already entered on a spreadsheet I created in the past.
A few months later, we finalized our divorce, and I officially became the head of my household. Not that the title change from “married” to “single” made any bit of logistical difference in my day-to-day existence. In fact, it made none. I had been managing our affairs for years, which I believe made it easier for my husband to walk away without worrying that Rome would burn behind him.
What I did not count on was the emotional toll my divorce would ultimately take on me. Where I had been running on adrenaline the entire time during my separation, racing to the finish line as quickly as I could, once there I was mentally spent. My formerly acute attention span was gone. I could not focus and, for the first time, understood how living with attention deficit disorder must feel.
What I did not count on was the emotional toll my divorce would ultimately take on me.
I shut down, along with our joint bank account and all of our automatic bill payments previously entered into its online system. Where I used to open the mail as soon as it arrived, I now let it stack up. The pile grew at record speed, and the bigger it got, the less I wanted to deal with it. So I did not. I lived by the motto “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and paid most of my bills only after receiving repeated reminders that were difficult to ignore even though I had the money to pay the entire time.
Of course, my avoidant behavior caused me more stress than what I had intended originally until one day I decided I could not handle it for even a minute longer. For weeks, the surface of my dining room table was almost completely covered with papers as I opened every piece of mail that had come in over the previous months. Next, I made phone calls to see what I had paid and what I had not and requested to receive paperless statements whenever possible. Finally, I set up each payee like I had done during my marriage so I could pay my bills online directly through my bank on a particular date every month.
The most important thing I did, however, was cut myself some slack. I forgave myself. I also did not behave in a compulsive manner like I would have before this time and try to create some over-the-top filing system I could never maintain long term. Instead, I kept my eye on the prize, which was simply to get through the chaos and re-establish order in my life.
And that is what I did. My good credit remains intact. I sleep well at night knowing my bills are being paid each month automatically. The same applies to investing for my future, and I have set up a payment schedule for that as well. Rome may have burned for a while, but the amazing part is “[h]ope rises like a phoenix from the ashes of shattered dreams.” –S.A. Sachs
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